The Lieutenant


Crisp dawn air brings the fresh pungency of pine to his senses, stirring childhood recollection of comfort and security. Pine trees stretch out endlessly in all directions; their needles and the grass below sparkle with crystal dew. Like a boy again, unencumbered, undamaged amidst a thousand displaced cones he stands. Golden shards of sun pierce his skin, saturating his body with radiant heavenly warmth. It feels like safe, wholesome childhood memory.
Nurturing warmth fades as forest succumbs to crimson tinged blackness and starched linen confinement. In darkness, the raw emanation of red clock digits dimly reveals condensed cubic dimensions, bordered by blistering grey walls. He registers the source of focused discomfort at his lower back as one of many wayward springs in a mattress decades past serviceability. Abruptly, silence is decimated by the shrill wale blasted from a wall mounted speaker. He is stunned simultaneously by the spontaneous advent of fierce purple fluorescence, abolishing darkness and signalling 0445 personnel activation.
Then blackness, and silence; save for the rapid thump of his heart, and the wired red of glowing clock digits. Consciousness dissolves the dreamscape forest and its concrete terror. He is safe – Relatively. Gradually his breathing slows, and awareness extends to the dampness of his sheets, and the sweat still breaking from his pores.
He is Lieutenant Nathan Byrne, 27; intelligence officer of the Central Nation Republic Guard – the State’s equally dreaded and exalted compliance enforcement body. His officer standing sets him above the sprawling masses. They are the elite, the CN Guard Officer Corps; selected for their intelligence, drive, absence of infirmity; and perceived malleability. Cultured from infancy in the ‘ideology of the common good’; they are privileged to oversee the maintenance of social order.
His is one of two hundred officer boarding cubes located in the North Eastern section of Guard Station Delta – the primary intelligence training facility. Responsibilities, conflicts, tensions and guilt begin to repopulate his semi-conscious mind.
Heinrich at 0700. The thought of that appointment wrenches the already tight knot in his gut. At 0700, Executive Officer, Frank Heinrich will interrogate his alleged performance deficit. Byrne forces himself out of bed, momentarily expelling the man commonly known as ‘the reptile’ from his mind. It is 0457 – he has two and a half hours to anticipate that encounter.
A shrill wale pierces the pre-dawn silence of his room. Blasted from wall-mounted speaker, the 0500 siren – wipes the last remnants of dreamscape from consciousness. The siren persists for a full minute, followed by the nerve-grating opening of the Central Nation allegiance anthem – the conditioning begins.

Byrne shaves with strained focus. The Guard officer corps demands flawless presentation; an errant hair; a loose string; a speck of blood – punished by severe physical reprimand. His body bears the scars of past complacency.
“Three cultist subversives were executed on Unity Square yesterday morning…” From the fixed volume speaker, a tight female voice reports. “Subversives, in breach of statute 307, were engaged in unlawful spiritual practice; and shot on site by Grand Commissariat sentinels.”
“Stupid bastards”, Byrne mutters, “Stupid, crazy bastards”. Cultism is suicide – They’re insane!
‘Guard Captain, Gordon Mahler, says that subversion in the South Quarter has dropped since the July crackdown last year. ‘If they’re there, well find them.’ ‘If they run, we’ll hunt them down.’’

Cultists are his bread and butter – At least they’re supposed to be. His unit was formed in 99’ to detect and monitor cultists. Their surveillance had since expanded to include anyone suspected of “subversive tendencies.” At last count that was twenty per cent of the population.

He dons black, Guard issue utility shirt. Thick, stiff material closes over his skin; shutting out light and air. His colleagues relish the uniform’s dark menace. To him it is inescapable dread. It’s a contradiction – the uniform, the role, the existence. Inconsistent; incoherent – always has been.
He looks to the blazing red digits of the time screen perched above his bed. Five minutes to allegiance. He finishes dressing and stands motionless, readying himself for the psychological barrage to follow.

0540 hours

“I submit in fullness, my life, my mind, all ties to the Invincible Central Nation Unity League.”
“I set myself against subverters and deriders of League supremacy.”
“I vow to be undeterred in hunting down, exposing and purging subverters.”
“There is no God.”
“The League is above all family, friends and associations.”
“My highest goal is League sovereignty and the complete dissemination of League ideology throughout the world.”
Row upon row of Guard – senior officers, officers, affiliates, enlisted rates – canvassed in black, stand before the blood-red flag of the CNUL. In unison they voice the solemn declarations they have made since childhood.
Byrne mouths empty words. His thoughts gravitate to the 0700 appointment, triggering another visceral reaction. Ten metres ahead; to his left, the Oversight, comprising Station Commandant; XO, and Heads of Departments stand on raised platform overlooking the assemblage. He feels Heinrich’s brutal glare boring into his fortitude. Heinrich – destroyer of subverters and deficient Guard. He eats JaGOs (junior guard officers) for breakfast.
To avert panic, Byrne sets his gaze and mind on a single brick in the wall ahead of him. The bland grinding harmony of the Unity League anthem reverberates concussively throughout the hall; dragging on endlessly as he musters all concentration to block Heinrich’s reptilian glare. Finally, it reaches its shuddering conclusion. The formation disassembles. Byrne discretely breaks from the officer corps en route to the dining hall. His churning insides banish any prospect of breakfast. In his cube he preps for rigorous physical distraction – He wraps his bad knee and runs – out of the station and through the surrounding grounds. His joint crunches ominously with each impact, forewarning future disability. But this is the nearest he gets to freedom – it’s worth the damage.

0750 hours

Byrne stands solemnly in the hallway outside Heinrich’s office. His presence is known, but ignored. An hour has passed since his arrival; another may pass before he is acknowledged. The wait is premeditated; a measured and deliberate antecedent to the severity to follow. Anticipation builds angst; angst weakens the will.
The walls of the hallway are covered in large League Supremacy hangings – paintings; photographic prints; plaques – each extolling the virtues of the league; championing its cause; celebrating its victory, and damning divergence. To Byrne’s left hangs the saccharised image of a Unity League family. With bold, rosy countenance, mother, father, son, daughter, stand side-by-side gazing up faithfully at the soaring flag of the League. The words, ‘We Stand Together’ are inscribed above the flag. It has to be a painting, Byrne considers cynically, there aren’t any families that healthy or cohesive around to photograph! By contrast, its photographic neighbour projects a strikingly harsh reality – a bloodied, emaciated man attempting to meditate on the floor of a prison cell. The caption beneath reads, ‘Smash the Cult’. Byrne shifts his focus to a much less confronting crack in the door frame. His day-to-day functioning and subsequent survival rests on the avoidance of certain realities.
“Come in JaGO!”, Heinrich’s voice gruff and hard. Eyes fixed on the report on his desk – Byrne’s performance record. “You’re Not Doing Your Job!” – Eye contact, cold and deadly. Byrne instinctively drops his gaze, lest fear… contempt… any compromising emotion seep forth. “You’re Not Doing Your Job. You’re A Grade One Lieutenant. Someone In Your Unit Steps Out Of Line – You Step On Them – That’s Your Job.”
“You Had A Trainee Pleb Report Late; Miss A Mark, Your Sergeant Takes Corrective Action, And You Stop Him?” Heinrich’s mouth twists into incredulous disgust. Reptilian eyes glower.
Heinrich thrusts two thick palms into the edge of his desk; forcing himself backward, he rises slowly; smoothly, eclipsing the light from the window behind him. With heavy, deliberate steps, he enters the breathing space of his subordinate. “Next time, you hurt him…,” His voice carries measured and deadly conviction “Or I Hurt You.”

1220 hours

Her name is Alice. She is civilian; a steward. She smiles, radiantly, not like the others, not like anyone else at the Station. For two weeks she has served meals to officers. Healthy; crystal clear eyes, smooth fresh skin; warmth – she does not belong. She makes life bearable
“Sir, your soup.” – She makes it sound like something palatable. Her smile cuts the severity of everything – I know you, I know you don’t belong, I know you’re not one of them. He cannot help but smile back. “Thankyou.” Officers do not thank domestics; but she elicits unrestrainable gratitude.
For a moment he is alone; her aura remains – lightness and hope. They pour in, ensign JaGOs; like sewer rats. Peace dissipates. “Sir”, nod; “Sir, may I?”, gesturing toward empty seat – perfunctory acknowledgement; disingenuous consideration. “Yeah.” He responds absently. They sit, ignoring him – the Lieutenant who does not speak. They are worse than his intake – more callous; less human. Every intake is less human. “Sir, could you pass the butter?” Asks thin faced officer cadet, cold black eyes; thin veiled savagery, I call you sir now; I will surpass you and eat you. Byrne hands over the butter. They talk, the future Guard officers, as if he is not there: ‘I said, “Recruit, you misreport again, I step on your head.” “Pleb was so rattled he misreported the next contact, I pulled him backwards in his chair by his hair, and I swear, he cried “mother!” The narrator’s eyes well with tears of hilarity; others at the table burst into hysterics. ‘I said, “I’m not your mother, pleb”’ – He re-enacts the stomping of his boot on the recruit’s face. The hysterical narrator looks to the Lieutenant for approval, but Byrne’s contemptuous glare rapidly drains the smile from his face. Byrne stands and leaves the now silenced table.

The Surveillance Room
1240 hours

“Lieutenant Byrne, Sir.” The words ring out with mocking acerbity – Selveny approaches – all 150 kilograms of bulging, sweat dampened, veteran Sergeant Regulator; assaulting the air with the stench of exocrine secreted alcohol and nicotine. He swaggers; more smug than usual; revelling in his knowledge of the young Lieutenant’s earlier reprimand.
Byrne sits silent and motionless, observing the imposing figure from the corner of his eye as it moves forcefully into his airspace. Selveny turns his stomach; he is the archetype veteran affiliate – brutal, ugly and corrupt. Men like Selveny have plagued his existence since his enlistment. His progression in rank has proved no barrier; changing only the mode of their torment, not the measure. His authority over Selveny and most other affiliates is tokenistic; especially when they have comrades, like Heinrich, in high places.
From the start, self-restraint has proved the only tenable buffer to the offences of Selveney’s kind. They thrive on reaction; raising hackles – he denies them.
Byrne starts at the sudden, crashing arrival of a 3lb equipment manual onto his desk. Narrowly missing his head, it opens on impact, broadly expelling its contents
‘STAND TO SIR!’ The violent command booms through the surveillance room; fixing the source of the projectile and completing the debasement of Byrne’s authority. Affiliates routinely obstructed directing officers, but they were never openly aggressive. In an instant, time-tempered endurance succumbs to pure rage. In one erratic movement he is face-to-face with Selveney a slew of high-charged, violent reprove at his verbal or physical disposal.

The look of sardonic satisfaction returned, dampens his fire. The sober reality that he has no recourse, and that he has conceded his one bastion – self-restraint, is inscribed in Selveny’s expression. The man’s stale odour of sweat and nicotine fill his nostrils as he registers the audience of trainee rates mustered near the room’s entrance; their attentions each keenly focused on him; expecting, compelling action. Time stops. Then the cold oppressive force of Heinrich’s ultimatum returns to mind.
Byrne lowers his glowering eyes from the Sergeant’s face and motions absently for him to continue. The retreat, like a self-inflicted wound, undercuts his strength and solidarity. Selveny’s affront goes unchallenged; unpunished – His officer standing is reduced to nothing. His humiliation and failure to reprimand will be known throughout the Station within hours.
Selveney straightens himself and sets his gaze forward in a parody of military custom; his tone is mockingly official, “Intel trainees mustered and accounted for.” I’m castrated, Byrne bitterly reflects. They own me.
“…All except…” A smirk twists the corner of Selveney’s mouth as he completes his report with palpable satisfaction “…recruit Evans.” That name; the source of his tribulation, triggers a silent explosion in Byrne’s core. He reflexively checks Selveney’s face; the smirk has broadened into a full unabashed grin. Unconvinced, he glances at the muster of rates – no Evans. His anger reignites. The brow-beating; the humiliation – all endured for a bastard trainee rate, who still doesn’t report for duty.

“Hasn’t…… learnt……. his lesson Sir.” Selveney’s tone smacks of dark intent. Byrne’s anger fades to trepidation. Selveney’s cold, violent glare challenges him to obstruct him again.
He’s going to disable Evans – to get to me. Selveney breaks deficient rates; makes examples of them. He’ll leave Evans with a permanent reminder to be on time, if he doesn’t kill him.
Conflicting imperatives vie for primacy; wrenching Byrne’s judgement back and forth. Each option poses severe repercussion. He blocks Selveney again: Heinrich, true to his word, Will hurt him – his body, his career, his future. He stands back, Evans gets permanently disabled.
Evans materialises; standing vacantly at the entrance. Byrne’s heart pounds hard in his chest; the walls, ceiling and floor contract; suffocating; pressurising; condensing.
“Uh, Sergeant, sorry…
Selveney’s eyes glisten as he registers the slow-witted, provincial identity of the speaker. The sickly grin returns to his face as he turns to regard his intended prey.
“…sorry I’m late… I, uh, couldn’t find my…
Evans stammering is cut short by the realisation of Selveney’s intent. His body seems to buckle under the weight of terrible anticipation. He stands pale faced, and shuddering – like a dog set to be caned.

Stalemated and impotent; Byrne is six years-old again, watching uselessly as his step-father beats his brother into unconscious submission.
The room’s twelve mustered trainees have faded into insignificance; there is only Byrne, Selveney and Evans. Dense air constrains time and thought. Byrne observes as if from a distance; too self-constrained to intervene.
Selveney’s silent, measured approach drains the blood from Evan’s face. Frantic eyes flicker to Byrne, scouring his face for any suggestion of concern; objection – nothing. The retributor barely breaks stride to collect a length of metal tubing from a vacant work station. It is seconds to impact.
“That’s Enough!” The charged words rupture the sinister density of the air; halting Selveney in his steps and rousing the room’s occupants from ominous anticipation. The utterer is equally stirred.
A slow moment elapses before Byrne identifies the voice as his own; another before he registers Selveney’s compliance. It is short lived.
Selveney resumes his death stride faster than before; casting his adapted weapon out behind his shoulder; poised for delivery.
“STAND DOWN SERGEANT!”
Spontaneously, Selveney swings round, hurling the metal in the direction of his directing officer. Byrne remains stationary, seemingly indifferent to the winding projectile that passes within inches of his head. The resounding clamour of its interception with the wall is dominated by Selveney’s manic explosion
“HE’S MY RATE, UNDER MY CHARGE! DON’T YOU OVER RULE ME, I’M…
“STAND DOWN – SERGEANT!”
Byrne’s control is delicate. His will alone breaks Selveney’s burning glare. Overpowered, the twenty-year Guard vet charges out of the room; wresting the door from its mounting with the force of his slam.
The entire room looses its tension. Byrne begins to breathe, regaining awkward awareness of the room’s inhabitants. Some glance uncertainly at the man who defies expectation. He falls them out and directs them to their stations.
Evans, still trembling, drops to the ground, sobbing convulsively. The damp patch at his groin affirms the extent of his terror.
“Get up recruit; clean yourself up. Report to me at secure.” Evans makes a stumbling departure; managing unintentionally to completely extricate the door from its hinges.

It is night when Byrne, in Selveney’s absence, dismisses the unit and makes his own exit from the room. Lost in thought, he barely registers the taint of nicotine in the air. From the shadows, a startlingly familiar voice cuts the silence.
“No room for Soft Hearts in this outfit squire!” Delivered with slow, dark measure, the words chill Byrne’s heart; halting him in his steps. He does not turn to acknowledge their source. But waits suspended for their continuance.
“If us affiliates don’t finish you…
…The boys on the hill will.” Byrne peers up at the fortress-like admin block. The building is in darkness save for one top-floor window, dimly lit – Heinrich’s nest. The grave implication of his revolt, that has remained, up to now, unimagined, now stands towering before him. He steps forth; away from dark portent; up the hill; staving off, for the moment, debilitating fear.
He halts at entrance to the officer’s block; forecasting the grey sterility of the dining hall; the inane depravity of the conversation. Alice is gone; finished for the day. There is no equaliser to the soulless, base collective within. For him, there is nothing there, but deeper disillusion. Without further thought, he turns and departs; leaving behind the dubious security and prestige of the Guard Officer Corps.

Admin Block
2140 hours

“Commandant Sir!”
Heinrich’s guttural croak reverberates the length of the Commandant’s State Room. The immaculately groomed figure seated at the opposing end is unstirred; his attention remains fixed on the ionic display embedded in his desk.
Heinrich ventures a step further; snaps his arms to his sides and repeats the address in sharper, tighter tone.
“Commandant Barrich Sir!”
In the motionless silence that ensues, Heinrich begins to doubt the prudence of approaching his superior at so late an hour.

“It’s Late.” His tone curt, Barrich’s gaze still does not lift beyond the immediate surface of his desk.
Heinrich, poised to apologise and withdraw, re-sets split-second resolve; collects his nerve and advances; papers primed for delivery.
“I have an interrogation order for your authority sir…”
The proclamation triggers a distinct reaction in the old man. Steely blue pupils slowly lift to regard the form of the imposing subordinate, and the official papers extended toward him.
…for Intel Directing Officer, Nathan Byrne.”
Mention of Byrne draws Barrich’s gaze back to Heinrich; his expression soured by sardonic aggravation.
“Again?”
Heinrich stunted by blank disdain, falters momentarily. With effort, he effects regroup of faculty, and proceeds with pre-formulated appeal:
“He’s Raised… Enough… Flags.. Sir”, he begins with slow, measured emphasis.
“Doesn’t… Blend!”
He pauses, allowing silence to charge the impact of his principal indictment.
“I – Suspect Subversive Intent.”
Barrich furrows his brow in response to the exaggerative excess of his subordinate. He drops his gaze from Heinrich and begins to massage his forehead with index and middle fingers. Sensing the narrowing of Barrich’s receptivity, Heinrich launches into ardent rationale
His Sergeant Reg – Lance Selveney – Good Man! – Staunch Operator! – served allegiance enforcement with me in twenty-five – been completely deactivated by Byrne.
Byrne blocks him from disciplining rates. Byrne circumvents Guard discipline. Rates miss muster; break protocol; fail to flag subversives – He lets it slide!
I checked him on it this morning; cautioned him. This afternoon I hear he’s blocked Selveney again from pulling a slack rate into line. That’s direct insubordination Sir.
Barrich’s expression bespeaks minimal concern.
Heinrich perseveres; drawing upon his dwindling evidentiary reserve.
It’s not just Selveney Sir. There’s been reports from officers – suspicions. He’s an unknown quantity! Doesn’t muck in with Corps; Doesn’t talk; Doesn’t drink. Thinks he’s above and beyond.”
Internal Surveillance looked over his cube – nothing yet. But we’ve got enough circumstantial evidence to start proceed…
“That’s not enough!” Barrich interjects gruffly
“You know it’s not!”
“Takes eight years to grind out an Intel Lieutenant.”
Barrich directs his attention to the display embedded in his desk. He taps it twice; then verbally instructs it to produce the record of the officer in question.
“Byrne….. Was a Late… Intake Sir.” Heinrich continues; pre-empting what he anticipates will be a less than collaborative performance record.
He wasn’t earmarked for induction till he was thirteen.
He was Out On The Fringes! Tenement-trash family; assorted step-fathers.
Had no doctrine instilment till he enlisted. Under new policy he’d have been automatically ineligible for…
“I – Don’t – Give a Damn!” Barrich curtly interrupts; his eyes illuminated by the backlight of Byrne’s service history.
He was inducted at thirteen because he scored over 99 on aptitude screening.
Aced his intel training – rated 95 on cognitive; 97 on analysis.
Since thirty-nine, his Unit’s consistently outperformed its equivalent in South Quarter; Unity Central and District Six.
Barrich’s scrutiny switches abruptly to his subordinate. “He piss you off Heinrich?” Heinrich suppresses a shudder. Hairlines split the surface of his icy repose.
“You got a Personal – Vendetta?”
‘He’s a Born Analyst; precision instrument; “isolates irregularity with poignancy” – says here.’
‘You want to interrogate him!…Neutralise him!’ ‘You’ll Break him. And compromise threat detection.”
“No!”

“Understood Sir”, Heinrich acquiesces solemnly.
“You’re Dismissed!”
Heinrich draws his arms to his sides and rights his body with dampened observance of Guard protocol. He about-faces and proceeds to exit…

“XO!”
A tight smile creases his mouth – his contingency plan comes into effect. His features rapidly resume their dark sobriety as he turns to face the unwitting executor of his plot.
“What’s This?” Barrich now stands; glaring at Heinrich, and motioning to his display.
“1615 – Level 2 Internal Security Breach – Officer’s Block”
“Why Am I Getting This Now – 6 Hours Late!” His eyes and tone channel cold fury.
Heinrich feigns incredulity. “Sir, I dispatched that alert before secure. It should’ve flashed wide at 1630”, he lies with conviction.
Barrich, momentarily excusing the claim’s invalidity resumes scrutiny of the alert.
“Who… Is Alice Castelle?” he demands of his subordinate.
Heinrich delays response; deliberately projecting the obtusity of a man caught off guard.
“Ahhh… She’s an officer steward Sir.”
“She flashed-up as a grade 2 suspect sub this afternoon.”
Barrich stands motionless, as if frozen in time; staring fiercely at Heinrich.
“She’s the sister of one of those – cultists – executed on Unity Square yesterday.”
“Different surname; fragmented family records – otherwise she’d have flashed-up sooner.”
Barrich’s eyes glaze over; his mind labouring assiduously to process the dangerous and unprecedented development.
“Is She Contained?”
Heinrich, this time genuinely jolted by the intensity of the old man’s bearing; drops his gaze, and begins earnestly to formulate explanation.
“Sir… She’d already departed when the flag came through.”
“We have enforcement in wait at her residence.”
Barrich silently contemplates the situation; then re-engages his subordinate with marginally tempered fierceness.
“What was her radii of exposure?”
The query is received with twisted satisfaction – the prompt that he had so carefully manoeuvred Barrich toward would now facilitate the fulfilment of his plot. He allows silence to build anticipation, and the gravity of his revelation before answering.
“She’s a quiet – one Sir.”
“Not unpopular with the other domestics. But, virtually no interaction with Guard – bar the standard passes from tanked JAGOs. Just one exception…”
“Got her and… Byrne… on surveillance multiple times.”
Barrich’s eyes flicker sharply to Heinrich’s. Heinrich fights to suppress the dark elation erupting inside him.
“Multiple accounts from officers; other domestics of them talking.”
“Seems there’s a bit of a spark there. Sir”
Heinrich permits a moment for the new information to be absorbed into his superior’s consciousness.
“He – doesn’t – talk to Anyone Else; borders on offensiveness to senior officers…
“But with her – he’s Fully Engaged.”
Heinrich observes with satisfaction, the outward formation of question and doubt on the old man’s face. His intention, he infers, is near ratification.
‘Of course Sir, there’s no obvious deviance in their public exchange – He’s too slick for that.”
“But he’s off-station every chance he gets. No uniform; no rank insignia. Takes off out into the fringes. We trail him – he disappears into the crowd.
“They’d have No – Problem connecting under… the… radar. – Especially with his expertise.

Barrich stares into space. Heinrich, poised patiently for signs of persuasion on the old man’s countenance, takes cue from a subtle, slow exhalation of air to conclude his appeal.
“He’s a Dangerous and Unjustified Liability Sir.’
“Too Many Question Marks!”

“He could Ruin – All – of – Us!”
The old man’s eyes settle intently on his own; gauging his legitimacy; probing his “reasoned” appeal for fractures. He Is the Master Interrogator, Heinrich dimly notes. Just as an irrepressible and telling gulp begins to mobilise his larynx, the spotlight is diverted. The Commandant gestures for the interrogation order, which he signatures and returns mechanically to its issuer.
It is retrieved by Heinrich with careful restraint.
“Bring Him In – Tonight” – The command is driven home with a look of deadly conviction.
“Open him Up.”

The Square

A massive expanse, bathed in lurid violet light extends outward, beyond the range of his vision. From towering metal poles, raw fluorescence illuminates the concrete tributes to revolutionary struggle and League domination – statues of fallen loyalists; League patriarchs; revolutionaries – They are the familiar, bleak adornments of Unity Square. He gazes in disbelief; bemused by the incredible distance he has apparently covered. His fogged-out memory offers only fractured scenes from hours of dazed wandering, and train journey for explanation.
Light drizzle assails monolithic columns lining the Square’s boundary. He is wet, he registers dimly; his mind still struggling for full awareness. Blended drops of sweat and rain stream down his face, bringing the foulness of salt and pollution to his lips.
Through the haze of smog, Byrne glimpses the monstrous form of a building; barely visible on the horizon. It stirs a clouded memory of something recent; something dreamt. It is the Grand Chancellery: The highest office; the fortress of Central Nation. The foreboding scene sends a shudder through his body; compounding the chill of the rain and air.
Against the nearest column he stops, leaning his shoulder into the dense stone. The shift of weight from his legs, permits the potent expression of knee pain. He winces, forecasting how much longer he has before he is rendered unable to walk. The past day’s events swirl round his consciousness sparking a barely comprehended urgency. He is AWOL, and judging by the dim grey light breaking through the clouds above, soon to be detected as such. A sickening knot forms in his gut. They will mark him suspect and flag him for extraction. He doubles over and dry retches; painfully wrenching his pitiably barren stomach. No food; no credit to get food.
Tears well in his eyes; blurring the raw, nauseating beams from the metal poles. He has fifteen; maybe twenty minutes before bourgeoning daylight betrays his position to the world and eventually the Square’s Guard sentinels. A blur of motion fifty yards ahead causes him to blink and refocus his attentions. Through the haze, the barely defined figures of a man and two women move purposefully onto the Square.
Their motion is fluid and light; they drift more than step into the expanse. For a brief moment their cover of dark is annulled by the lurid violet of plaza light. His eyes lock onto the central feminine form; her movement; carriage; contour – captivatingly familiar; rouse him to full awareness. He forces himself from the shelter of the column, straining his vision for a further glimpse. She fades back into shadow, leaving an unmistakeable warmth; hope that crystalizes her identity. Alice! Surging adrenalin banishes fatigue. Forgetting the arresting pain in his knee; he charges forward; limping determinedly in their wake.
Intuiting the imperative of quiet, he suppresses the urge to call her name; willing instead, desperately, that they will come to a stop before disappearing from range.
He has tracked barely two hundred yards when force of will succumbs to physical limit. Paralysing pain ignites in his knee and explodes in his brain. His elbows, knees and palms impact sharply against the concrete. An involuntary agonised cry erupts from his throat. Thrusting his head up; through tear-filled eyes, he watches the enigmatic trio move further and faster away. He sobs pitifully; hopeless and broken. Emptiness, ripples outward from his core, consuming him. He watches, uselessly, as they all but disappear from vision.
They stop. Disbelief filters the return of hope to his battered mind. He watches intently, their uncommonly gentle movement as they turn toward each other to confer. Their ethereal bearing sets them beyond time and space; they displace his reality. In a small, evenly spaced triangle, they position themselves on the ground. Each elegantly crosses their legs, straightens their posture, and rests their hands in their lap. A tranquil ease sets over them; unifying and harmonising their presence. Amidst Byrne’s heavy mental fog, cerebral cogs and gears begin to grind, processing; recollecting; interpreting the scene.
Gracefully and in unison, they begin to move; tracing delicate patterns in the air with their hands. Like a tidal wave, realisation smashes against him; setting his mind in wild, racing revolution. They’re Cultists!
Alice is a Cultist!
That simple realisation decimates the flood gate that has up to now restrained an ocean of unilluminated truth. Its force buckles his arms, uniting his brow with the concrete. The accusations, demonization; the mental constructs borne of twenty years League programming – televised cultists confessions of espionage, treason; reports of self-immolation, assassination attempts; cult assaults on Guard and their families; violent cult-driven uprisings; witchcraft; cannibalism… Its fallacy exposed all at once by the light of her; broken through, obliterated by her purity. He sees her, as she stood before him in the Dining Hall; her clear, free smile; her calm; her gentleness. If she is evil; if she is a cultist; then evil is upturned; the cult is fiction.
The noxious hatred and fear of League programming evaporate; leaving him shattered and drained, but clean. His body trembles with heavy sobs of release. He slumps onto the concrete; inhaling, as if for the first time, fully and deeply into unconstricted lungs.
He lies for a moment, motionless on the concrete – like a body churned out by the ocean, and dumped upon the shore. Like foam dragged back from the shore, the floating remnants of implanted fallacy recede, leaving clear, expansive reality.
Relief rapidly fades to jarring awareness of his own culpability – the surveillance, the monitoring, the people, families – isolated by Him, by His unit – marked for extraction; interrogation. Remorse grips him; wrenching, strangling. Bile surges up from his gut, burning his throat before splattering the concrete. Caustic teardrops burn his skin; accompanied by violent, bitter effusion. Hundreds, more, destroyed… for believing, for the maintenance of social order, for League dominion – Destroyed by Him. Everything he resents in the vermin that file through the officer’s block – He Is! Subhuman, Degenerate, Abomination. Nothing could be more desired or deserved than the tortured, protracted annulment of his life.
Byrne’s self-effacement is broken by piercing shrill announcement of red dawn via myriad plaza speakers. Turning toward the Grand Chancellery, his panic climaxes as the ominous blood-flag of Unity Square is hoisted to full-mast. He forces his torso of the ground. The first light of dawn has set over the plaza; revealing to all the three still figures in meditation.
Byrne lumbers heavily toward them. They have minutes; seconds, before Guard sentinels notice the gathering of spectators, pointing, chattering, waiting in dark anticipation for the brutality set to unfold. Sentinels will see them, and they will shoot them – All dissidents are executed on sight.
Concern for self is expunged. Alice Cannot Die; They Cannot Die. The culminated twenty-seven years of his existence are concentrated into this single moment. For the world to be sufferable; valid, they have to survive.
He is near enough to see her face; tranquil and clear. Her companions, a woman, younger than her – an adolescent; and a middle-aged man – each impossibly calm; transcendent. Anxiously, urgently, he begins to call her name. The gravelly rasp of his sore, dry throat belies the peaceful repose of the trio. Neither is stirred by disruption.
Their audience has swelled beyond eighty. Onlookers strategically position themselves to avoid possible stray bullets. Their low murmur rises in volume and intensity at the sight of the dishevelled cripple in Guard fatigue limping fast into the scene. Their intrigue fuelled by the absence of firearm or cudgel in his hand. Blood lust hangs thick and sinister in the air.
Almost upon them, Byrne shouts her name. The younger woman trembles, but holds posture. Perspiration; facial tension belie projected calm. Her face bears the strain of fatal anticipation. The bone grind of a careless step reignites pain receptors, bringing him to his knees, and banishing the prospect of his own escape. A flash premonition of capture, handcuffs, syringes, shock battons.., Heinrich liquefies his insides. He shifts it from his mind with the far more terrible projection of Alice’s capture – The thought drives him to persevere.
“Alice!”, the call is inhuman; a strangled, desperate rasp; but surely of sufficient volume to rouse her; them. “Alice! YOU NEED TO GO! NOW!
His appeal is lost, save for the barely perceptible shudder of the twenty-year old. Through excruciation, he staggers nearer; into their field. Dimly, he registers, beyond the chaos, the danger; a subtle, yet solid, anchored calm.
“THEY’RE GOING TO SHOOT YOU!”; his exhortation now directed at all three. “GET UP! NOW!” His voice breaks; rendering his words impotent vapour.
A stir from Alice seizes his attention; re-sparking hope of sparing life. His eyes lock on to her, compelling further movement; acquiescence.
Her body gently loosens its firm, straight posture. Anguish; weariness set on her face as it lets go concentration, and turns toward his own. Her eyes are moist and red, but crystal; her expression, near to breaking, conveys a sad, but stable resolve that fixes the futility of his efforts.
Each memory of their exchanges conflates with his every insidious act to break the cult; levelling him with regret; shame; loss. He is unfit to be with them; contaminating their purity. Yet her face bears only acceptance. Her mouth creases into an empathic half smile; validating the remnants of his humanity.

The Square, now lighted by day is awash with people. Some, seemingly oblivious to Byrne and the meditators, proceed vacantly to their jobs; homes, reporting points. The rest, numbering over a hundred; stand waiting, in heated anticipation for the invariable Unity League resolution of dissidence. Myriad stony faces, set, with the obstinate, baseless hatred of League programming watch; ignorant to the brilliance of those to be destroyed; and to the tragedy of their own abidance.
In that instant he understands.
The League could not break Alice; her companions; their movement. Hunted, tortured, murdered – they’re humanity remained intact. It was these, the citizenry, the Guard footmen, the ensign JaGOs in the dining hall, who raised their right hands and swore allegiance each morning who were broken; extricated from conscience; their humanity dead.

Alice resumes meditative posture; her face slowly relaxes. The younger woman no longer trembles. The three seem to harmonise into calm. The energy is real: Subtle, but deep and penetrative. It purifies the stale air; relieves tension; rejuvenates. It stirs in his memory the all but forgotten majesty of the dreamscape forest.

Soon, the disabling wail of the incursion alarm will flood Central Nation Plaza. Two; three minutes later, the thunder clap of semi-automatic rifles will split the air.
Byrne, with unexpected ease, shifts his focus back to the crystalline calm emanated by the three. He lowers himself to the concrete, and forces his body beyond agony to replicate the posture of the others.
The gold rank insignia – symbol of elitist power, status; he unpins from his collar and throws toward the crowd. In seconds they are violently pounced upon and scrapped over. He abandons his utility shirt to the ground behind him; leaving only thin white undershirt to buffer the brisk morning air.

The sentinels closing in from behind will see just another four white-clad cultists; readily arranged for neat disposal…

Gradually, pain subsides. Fear and tension dissolve into the depth of their fortitude. A peace, not felt since childhood, settles into him.

…this will be just a routine suppression of benign defiance.

But the gathering of incredulous civilians will see a different reality…

Reports of four cultist subversives neutralised on Unity Square will be broadcast across all frequencies and networks within the hour. Lieutenant Nathan Byrne will be re-named and re-identified as a working-class malcontent with a long and serious criminal history; devoid of any connection to State Department, institution or office.

But by that time, the crowd of onlookers will have dispersed; carrying out to the populace the unimaginable reality of what they have witnessed.

By week’s end, word of the Lieutenant Guard officer, shot down BY GUARD, alongside three cultists, will have reached every factory, Guard station dining room, office block and tenement flat in Central Nation: Purging from collective consciousness, the Myth of League invincibility.

Addendum


中國
Middle Kingdom

In 1949 the Chinese Civil War drew to an end with the Nationalist Party’s defeat, and the Communist Party in control. Chairman Mao Zedong declared a People’s Republic of China.2,8
In 1966, Mao, fearing retraction of Party domination, fostered public denouncement of ‘counter-revolutionary’ elements. Shock troops, known later as The Red Guards initially targeted teachers and academics. Rapidly, violent repudiation expanded to encompass those: of ‘bad class ancestry’; with alleged links to the West; entertaining bourgeois ideation – essentially anyone arbitrarily deemed ‘counter-revolutionary.’ ‘Class-enemies’ were publicly shamed, sometimes executed or beaten to death.1,7
This ‘Cultural Revolution’ which continued until 1976 saw the ruin of historical sites of spiritual practice – temples and monasteries were razed. It was a deliberate disavowal of traditional Chinese culture and values for instalment of Maoist socialist belief. As many as four million people are estimated to have died as a result of the Cultural Revolution. Mao engaged the army, the one legitimate national organisation with concrete line of command, to restore order. Its presence in public sphere persisted and expanded afterward.1,8
In 1989, students assembled in Tiananmen Square seeking dialogue with State and protesting Party corruption. They were joined by Beijing citizenry, workers, intellectuals, journalists, state ministry staff and security force members. Their number rose as high as a million. Martial law was declared in response. Two weeks later, overnight, heavily armed troops, tanks and armoured personnel carriers forced entry into Tiananmen Square, and fired upon the demonstrators. 2600 civilian deaths were reported by the China Red Cross Society.1,8

Gross economic reform, sparked after Mao’s death (1976), has effected marked deviation from socialist to market economy. New statute compounds onus upon China’s health sector to self-fund. Chinese hospitals have met ‘market’ expectation by answering the global demand for human organs.5 China, currently, is second only to the United States in the number of transplants it performs.6
In 2012, China’s vice minister of health publicly acknowledged the State’s practice of removing organs from prisoners sentenced to execution.3 7000 transplants, sourcing organs from the deceased reportedly occur each year. Yet human toll estimated from criminal executions is less than 1700.6 Thus, as a nation up and to now devoid of bona fide donation arrangements, China’s principal organ source remains largely unidentified.6
Practice of Falun Gong grew rapidly in China after public introduction in 1992. Combined energy balance forms and timeless precepts perfused each layer of society, Communist elite included.1 Falun Gong practitioners assembled around the Government Petition Office, Beijing, in 1999 appealing against the arrests and beatings of fellow practitioners.1 Extracts from Jiang Zemin’s9 subsequent letter to the Party’s Central Committee follow:
“Today’s event deserves our profound reflection. Without being noticed by humans or ghosts, more than 10, 000 people gathered around the gate of the Party and State Power Centre for a whole day…
After this incident occurred the Western media reported it immediately with seditious exaggeration. Is there any connection with the overseas, with the West? Is there a behind-the-scenes master in the planning command?
This is a new signal, and we should pay full attention to it. A sensitive period has arrived, and we must quickly take effective measures to prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.
This incident has had the most participants of all since the 1989 [Tiananmen Square] incident. I have repeatedly stressed the need to prevent the small from becoming large and to report all major events to us.
[We] must use correct world-views, philosophy, and values to educate the cadres for the masses and the masses themselves.
Can’t the Marxism our Communists have, the materialism, atheism we believe in really win over that suit of stuff aired by Falun Gong? If that were not the case, would it not be a thumping joke? Our leading cadres at all levels especially high-level officials should become sober now!”
[April 25 1999]

Extract from Jiang’s10 mandate to the 610 Office, established to ‘deal with Falun Gong’ follows:
After the leading group dealing with “FALUN GONG” problems has established at CCCCP [Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party], it should immediately organise forces, find out the organisation system nation-wide of “FALUN GONG” ASAP, constitute the battling strategies, get fully prepared for the work of disintegrating [FALUN GONG], [we] should never launch a warfare without preparations.
[June 7 1999]

Between 1994 and 1999, 18,500 organ transplants took place in China. In the six-year period following 1999 mandate to ‘disintegrate’ Falun Gong this figure rose to 60,000. Liver transplant centres increased from twenty-two to five-hundred between 1999 and 2006.4
In 2006, a woman using the pseudonym Annie told The Epoch Times newspaper that her surgeon husband had confessed to removing ‘the corneas from approximately 2,000 anaesthetised Falun Gong prisoners in Sujiatun Hospital’, Shenyang City. He affirmed that none survived surgery as other surgeons removed vital organs and all bodies were exhumed.4


Falun Gong endures amidst unprecedented brutalisation. The Party, in July 1999, anticipated ‘resolving’ the ‘problems of Falun Gong’ within three months.3 Fourteen years later, despite the concerted efforts of its ministries, security organs, police and State media apparatus, Falun Gong persists.1,10 Practitioners continue in State-run psychiatric institutions, re-education centres and gulags to defy Party mandate and qualify, in their fortitude the primacy of 真 善 忍 – Zhen, Shan, Ren‡.

‡ 真 善 忍 – Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance – Falun Gong’s essential principles

Bibliography

1. Breslin, S., Yahuda, M., & Brown, K. Recent History (The People’s Republic of China), in Europa World online. London: Routledge. Curtin University Library. Retrieved 01 May 2013 from http://www.europaworld.com/entry/cn.hi.1
2. Fitzgerald, C. History up to 1966 (The People’s Republic of China), in Europa World online. London: Routledge. Curtin University Library. Retrieved 01 May 2013 from http://www.europaworld.com/entry/cn.hi
3. Guttman, E. (2012). Bitter Harvest: China’s ‘Organ Donation’ Nightmare. World Affairs, (July/August). Retrieved 30 Apr 2013 from http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/bitt...
4. Matas, D., & Kilgour, D. (2007). Bloody Harvest: Revised Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China (p. 54). Retrieved from http://organharvestinvestigation.net
5. Matas, D., & Kilgour, D. (2009). Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs (pp. 71, 72, 96). Woodstock, ON: Seraphim Editions.
6. New Tang Dynasty Television. (Producer). (2012). Killed for Organs: China’s Secret State Transplant Business [Video file]. Author. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvAOOwvJMZs
7. Wakeman, F. (2000). World Book Millennium 2000 (Vol. 3). Chicago, IL: World Book Inc.
8. Wong, K. (Producer), & Perlman, M. (Director). (2012). Free China: The Courage to Believe [Documentary Film]. New Tang Dynasty Television & World2Be Productions
9. Zemin, J. (1999). [Official communication]. Cited in Matas, D., & Kilgour, D. (2009). Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs (pp. 20-22). Woodstock, ON: Seraphim Editions.
10. Zemin, J. (1999). [Official communication]. Cited in Matas, D., & Kilgour, D. (2009). Bloody Harvest: The killing of Falun Gong for their organs (pp. 22-23). Woodstock, ON: Seraphim Editions.

The Lieutenant

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Artist's Description

A futuristic dystopian abstraction. Nathan Byrne is submitted in will and deed to the all-pervasive order of The League. An officer of the The League’s dreaded and exalted compliance enforcement organ, The Guard; Byrne’s privileged role is to identify and mark for extraction those who would undermine social equilibrium. Yet, within him burgeons a persistent unease that stokes the languished embers of a deeply buried conscience.
In a climate of thought engineering and control his doubt isolates him from all but possibly one: the enigmatic young woman who delivers his nightly meal.

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